WORKING CLASS HERO … My dad has been a dedicated union man for almost all his life … Forced to leave mechanic work post-World War II after catching pneumonia repeatedly in foggy San Francisco (in those days instead of lifts, most mechanics worked in pits dug into the ground), his brother Art got him a job laying hardwood floors down the Peninsula, and he joined the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Local # 1047 (1950-57), and then Local #3107 (1957-65) – even when he moved from worker to boss of his own hardwood floor company. His was a union shop. He paid top wages, only hired union workers, never crossed a picket line, and kept his membership current. It was his personal ethic … After a series of family misfortunes forced him to give up his business, he found a second career as a mailman. And he did so by joining the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), Branch 1427 (1966-83). Although bankruptcy cleared his subcontractor debts, he still owed on a personal loan to his older brother Harry. So for several years he worked his day job, delivering mail, full time, and then worked into the wee hours as a bartender, to pay his brother back (which he did). And he joined the Hotel & Restaurant Employees and Bartenders International Union for that second job as well, Local 577 (1968-71) … Even after he retired from NALC, he got on the local’s board and worked as editor of the union’s monthly newsletter, The Carrier. For years, he urged the union to start a building fund, and buy its own building, instead of renting. Others disagreed. But every year he’d raise the issue again, and finally, about nine years ago, they started a building fund – and his was the first donation … After his second wife died, he’d go down to the union hall regularly – to shoot the breeze, work on the newsletter and deliver his trademark biscotti (a kind of twice-cooked anise-flavored Italian cookie immortalized locally in the Ah Haa Cookbook). Eventually, he stopped working on the newsletter, stopped making the biscotti, stopped driving even … But then the union members would come by to visit him. And so, it was no surprise, that last month, when they finally held the dedication ceremony for the building they’d at last bought in Santa Clara, they invited Vince (and made several personal visits to convince him to come). Not only to cut the ribbon from his wheelchair (which he did) or eat the cake with his name on it (which he also did, with relish), but to honor him by naming the meeting hall after him, memorialized with a lovely plaque, and giving speech after speech in testimonial to what a great union member he had been … With his commanding presence, in his wheelchair, at the head of the hall, Vince said a few words. Made us laugh, always his gift, and brought tears to all our eyes. Union members. Vince himself. His dear next-door neighbor Janet. And even his paleohippie son … It doesn’t always happen that folks get honored in their own lives for the good they do, but when they do, it sure feels good for everyone.
SNAILMAIL … Being in California after rushing out here when my dad collapsed in April, I realized I was coming up on a candidate deadline in May. I needed to get a signed document to the county clerk quickly. As the son of a postal worker, I figured to send it by U.S. Mail. Express Mail, to be exact – usually overnight delivery but guaranteed at least to get there faster than First Class … So, I went to the Mountain View Post Office and sent out parcel number 055208-9550 on a Saturday. It had to be delivered to the county courthouse by Wednesday, so I figured I was leaving some slack time in case something happened … Well, Thursday I got an email from the county clerk wondering what had happened to my important document? I was flabbergasted. It was five days after I had sent it (one day being a Sunday, I realized, so four working days). Since I had all my receipts, I went on line to the Track & Confirm website www.usps.com. Yes, I had sent it on Saturday. Yes, it had made it from Mountain View to San Francisco. And then from San Francisco to Denver. And then from Denver to Grand Junction. And then from Grand Junction to Telluride. Dates, times – everything was there online. Everything except the envelope. It never got delivered. Although it made it to the Telluride Post Office on Monday, it sat there, inexplicably, for a whole week (the address was correct, the courthouse a pretty hard building to miss) … Only after I explained all that to Peggy Nerlin and she made some inquiries did the envelope finally arrive on Friday … So, I paid $16.25 to have a single signed sheet of paper delivered “Express Mail” by the U.S. Postal Service only to have it take almost a week to arrive. What’s wrong with this picture? We have great dedicated postal employees (particularly the union postal workers I met in Mountain View), but a postal system that can’t deliver … MORAL – If you’re in a hurry, don’t send things by U.S. Mail. And if you do use snail mail, don’t send it Express Mail. It could take longer than sending it First Class, alas.
WRIGHT STUFF … My poetry buddy and long-time political agitator Bill Nevins of Albuquerque sent me a wonderful analysis of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy written by Bill Fletcher, Jr. (www.blackcommentator.com). For me it captures a lot of the ambivalence that I felt listening to Wright at the National Press Club and then Obama’s inevitable disavowal of his retired pastor … “Rev. Wright should be criticized for abandoning tactics and putting himself before the movement. He should not, however, be criticized for challenging the myths associated with U.S. history. Even if one disagrees with aspects of what he relayed – such as his take on the origin of AIDS – much, if not most of his argument is backed up by a genuine examination of the foundations of the USA and its current role domestically and internationally … And we, to the Left of Senator Obama, must continue to advance an accurate sense of the history and role of the USA.”
© 2008 Art Goodtimes